By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
RICHMOND, July 15 -- With a little more than 100 days remaining until the Nov. 4 election, Republican U.S. Senate candidate James S. Gilmore III is struggling to keep pace with his Democratic opponent Mark R. Warner in the money race, and the presidential candidates are stepping up their spending in Virginia.
In campaign finance reports released Tuesday, Gilmore had $117,000 in the bank as he prepared to enter the next phase of the campaign, including a debate with Warner this weekend at the Homestead Resort in the western part of the state.
Warner, who like Gilmore is a former governor, has $5.1 million in the bank, giving him a commanding advantage in his ability to reach out to voters.
Warner launched his second major advertising blitz of the campaign Tuesday, releasing a 30-second TV spot focusing on his plans for reducing gas prices and reforming the nation's energy policies.
Gilmore has yet to air a TV ad, instead using his resources to send out targeted "robocalls" to voters to try to get out his message about the need to drill for more oil in the United States.
"It's like everything else. You would like to have more money to spend than you have, but I think the key for us is we've got enough money to deliver our message when the voters are listening, and that really isn't . . . until October," M. Boyd Marcus, a Gilmore strategist, said, commenting on Warner's 44-to-1 money advantage. "People are maybe paying some attention to the presidential race, but they are not paying much attention to anything else."
With Virginia possibly up for grabs in the presidential race, Sens. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) have started investing in TV ads in the state.
Obama released a 30-second TV ad Tuesday that will air statewide. In it, he talks about his vision for protecting national security and his efforts in the Senate to try to keep nuclear weapons out of terrorists' hands. Since becoming the presumptive Democratic nominee, Obama has aired three ads in Virginia, including in the expensive Washington media market.
McCain went up with his first Virginia ad last week, a one-minute biographical spot that has been airing in the Washington area.
If the presidential contest appears competitive in Virginia into the fall, political analysts say, Obama and McCain could each spend well more than $10 million in the state.
By the end of this week, McCain will have regional offices in Fairfax, Richmond, Fredericksburg and Virginia Beach. The Obama campaign, which has dozens of paid staffers working in the state, plans to announce a major expansion of its Virginia effort Wednesday, according to Democratic officials.
Both political parties also are expected to pour money into Virginia, which hasn't supported a Democratic presidential nominee since 1964.
According to federal finance reports, the Virginia Democratic Party has a 9-to-1 advantage over the state Republican Party in money that can be used to try to influence the outcome of the presidential, Senate and congressional races. Virginia Democrats, who are trying to raise at least $3 million for their coordinated campaign, have $841,000 in their federal account, compared with the state GOP's $92,000.
"We are going to be using our resources to reach out to voters to make sure we elect Democrats up and down the ticket, from Obama to Warner to our congressional candidates," said Levar Stoney, executive director of the Virginia Democratic Party, which has opened 10 regional offices focused on this fall.
GOP officials said the Republican National Committee, which has $53 million in the bank, can transfer money to the Virginia state party at any time to offset the Democrats' early money advantage.
"We are confident that Virginia will have more than enough resources to help lead John McCain to victory in November," said Katie K. Wright, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee, who noted that the Democratic National Committee has $4 million in the bank.
Rebecca Fisher, a spokeswoman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said the committee has not decided whether it plans to spend money to try to boost Gilmore.
In Northern Virginia's 11th Congressional District, GOP nominee Keith S. Fimian has an early fundraising advantage over Democratic candidate Gerald E. Connolly, the chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. Fimian, a wealthy businessman, said he has about $1 million in the bank for his race.
Connolly, who just finished a costly battle for the nomination against former U.S. representative Leslie L. Byrne, has $271,000 on hand. But Connolly, whose fundraising is expected to pick up over the summer, will probably be able to count on help from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
Last week, DCCC officials said they had reserved $1.3 million in airtime in the Washington media market to run ads this fall aimed at the 11th District, which includes most of Fairfax and part of Prince William County.